After Alaska disruption, governors criticize national energy policy

Published 4:58 pm Tuesday, August 8, 2006

Governors worried about damage to the economy and complained about years of neglect on energy policy after an Alaska oil field shutdown, but offered far different solutions on Monday.

Energy independence and alternative fuels had already been part of the weekend’s summer meeting of the National Governors Association. News of the oil field shutdown and the spike in oil prices, spurred by corrosion of a key oil pipeline, put a sharper edge to the topic.

Democratic Gov. Kathleen Blanco of Louisiana, whose state is at the center of the nation’s fuel production and distribution, criticized the federal government’s monitoring of critical infrastructure.

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“From our perspective in Louisiana, our wetlands are disappearing and it’s exposing our network of pipelines,” she said. “That’s potentially putting our whole infrastructure at greater risk.” She said local development and pollution also spurs erosion, but said more federal involvement is needed.

Republican Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi said the problem was environmentalists and others who fight increased drilling and pipeline construction.

“We need supply to grow. That means more drilling like (proposals to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge), more nuclear energy, more coal to liquid,” he said. “We see how the shortsightedness of not-in-my-backyard resistance can cause enormous reduction in supply, which is going to result in higher prices.”

In Washington, New York Gov. George Pataki offered a 10-year energy program calling for tax credits for fuel-efficient cars and development of alternative fuels in a speech to the National Press Club.

Asked about drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Pataki said, “There’s no question we have to expand domestic production of oil. I think you’ve just seen this afternoon what happened unless we have reliable additional sources that are convenient to the market. So yes, we need to open up more places for oil exploration and drilling.”

After the appearance, Pataki told reporters he did not mean to “rule in or rule out any particular area,” including ANWR, for oil drilling.

Governors from both parties said the disruption would hopefully spur a willingness to tackle a more ambitious approach to energy.

“Our energy policy for the last 30 years is a joke. We’ve been asleep at the switch, both Republicans and Democrats,” said Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota, who has been pushing alternatives such as ethanol and wind energy at home.

Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer, a Democrat, said the disruption only strengthens his argument for a federal energy policy that would encourage greater investment in coal to produce synthetic fuels. He had earlier laid out a plan where Montana coal could replace more than half the foreign oil imported each year.

“We’ve got the solution but we’ve got to move. We’ve got to have a balanced portfolio of fuels,” he said.

Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano of Arizona said she was waiting to hear more to understand the wider impact. “It’s just further confirmation of the fact that we need a national energy policy. It’s further confirmation that our continued dependence on foreign oil is a problem.”

Republican Gov. Mark Sanford of South Carolina said that if the disruption lasted so would higher prices, given the rapid escalation in prices over the last year and the latest Mideast instability.

“It’s sort of wrong time, wrong place,” he said.